Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

GGR walks out on meeting with Police Commissioner

“How many people must get hurt before the Commissioner acknowledges the problem of homophobic violence?”

Commissioner's main response before the facts was “no” says the group

Equality Rights Group GGR in a press statement today, has lamented that following a meeting with the Commissioner of Police last Tuesday, at which the Chairman and Secretary of the group put before Mr Wink concerns over what GGR says is a slow trend of increasing homophobic violence and harassment at times leading to attempted suicide, the Commissioner refused to acknowledge the situation.

“This flies in the face of the worrying facts, even though the numbers in a small community such as ours are currently small. The point is that positively tackling the issue now may help to break the trend and avoid future aggression. How many people need to be hurt before the Commissioner will convey the message that homophobic attacks are just downright unacceptable and criminal?

“We are saddened by this attitude, since GGR has had a cordial relationship of cooperation and exchange of views over the past seven years with the previous Commissioner and the RGP as a whole,” Mr Alvarez added. “Our disagreement with the Commissioner in no way diminishes our respect for or appreciation of the Force as a whole.

“Nonetheless, our aim, throughout, has been to foster understanding at the highest levels of the RGP in order to assist and contribute towards a reality of best practice policing in our community. This has extended to the development by the group of a training programme on police issues regarding the gay community which we have conducted at the police’s behest and from which enthusiastic and positive feedback has been received.

“The Commissioner should play an important part in projecting determination to policing this community fairly and effectively in respect of all sectors. Whilst we understand that as head of police he has an obligation to robustly act against crime of any sort, it is, in our view, neither sensible nor wise to bury his head in the sand and deny the rise locally of homophobic violence.

“We were surprised by the Commissioner’s stonewalling and complete unwillingness to even explore positive ways forward. The Commissioner’s main response was “no”. This is a notable change of attitude following the Government’s introduction of the Police Act 2006.

“The proactive protection of sexual minority citizens in Gibraltar is too basic a police function for GGR merely to smile and move on to the next agenda item.

“The incidence of homophobic violence in Gibraltar though presently low is nonetheless very serious. It is, however, on the increase. We will not stand idly by and watch anti-gay attacks increase whilst the Commissioner thinks about it. He is the man responsible and it is he who must answer.

“To that extent, as Chairman of GGR I will return to the table with Commissioner Wink any time he sees fit on the basis that he has something positive to say about his plans for protecting the gay community but not before.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Anti-gay violence and suicide in Gibraltar 'is beginning to worry'

The group welcomes Bayside anti-bullying initiative

"Bullying, self-harm and gay suicide are underscored by systems of unequal institutional treatment"

Equality Rights Group GGR has applauded the initiative of Bayside School in acknowledging ‘the very real problem of bullying in schools." They similarly take the opportunity to congratulate the work of DAWN in tackling issues of bullying in the workplace. "Both these initiatives can help to return self-esteem to victims and contribute to overcoming the problem."

"With respect to the School, the measures being taken are significant not only because they are backed up by practical measures to alert and act against bullying and thus protect pupils, but for what they also imply: acknowledgment and, by extension, sensitisation of teaching staff to the issues involved. Confronting the issues are the important first steps towards dealing with the problem."

"The issue of homophobic bullying at school is an increasingly real one. Not too long ago, local young gay people at school spoke openly in the Gibraltar press about their experiences in this regard. Equality Rights Group GGR continues to hear of incidents of this nature, and we very much trust that Bayside and other schools will develop their initiative to take into account the many forms that bullying takes in our school system."
"In this particular context, measures recently developed and introduced by the Leicestershire County Council in the UK are of particular note, and we would hope the Education Department in Gibraltar will introduce similar measures for advice, information and support.

"On a wider consideration, GGR views with particular concern the growing level of homophobic attacks in the community. These range from attacking gay-identified premises to harassment and physical violence against openly gay people in this community. Whilst these are issues which are rarely reported or attended to in a public manner in Gibraltar, GGR is keeping tabs on the situation in order to raise it with police and other authorities on the Rock. Let noone think, however, that because these incidents of intolerance do not receive public attention that they do not exist in our community. They most certainly do.
"What we cannot have are situations, as has indeed occurred over the past year or so, where a gay person has been repeatedly subjected to insults, harassment and physical violence to such an extent that they were driven to multiple suicide attempts.

"This ugly face of homophobia in our community, underscored by institutional inequality, is a reality that cannot and must not be hidden from public view or scrutiny. This is not a numbers game. Even if it only happens to one or two people it is, in our view, one or two people far too many. UK statistics suggest that up to 41% of gay peoples are subjected to physical violence at school. There is no reason why Gibraltar cannot learn from such developments elsewhere so we are not condemned to repeat the same errors.

"GGR is certain that the majority of people in Gibraltar disapprove and repudiate such treatment, but the reality is one which the police and other responsible authorities must now address with greater vigour and determination than ever before. To this end, Equality Rights Group GGR will be raising the issue directly with the Commissioner of Police."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

GGR questions inequality in transfer of MOD workers in Gibraltar

Equality Rights Group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez has today expressed “alarm and strong concern” for the rights of workers in the MOD, following recent announcements of an agreement which, says Mr Alvarez, “we have recently been told by the negotiating parties is supposed to have brought an end to the injustices originally planned to take effect in detriment of local workers. I shall be taking a close interest in the matter to ensure workers’ rights are not being violated, and in that the workforce has my fullest support.

“However, I have been approached by a number of drivers from the MOD Motor Transport section who have allegedly already been served last week with 7 days notice that they either take or leave a set of new terms regarding conditions of employment which did not form part of their original contract. This may allegedly have been done under the threat that they will otherwise become “surplus to requirement”.

“Contractual amendments of this calibre are, reportedly, not applicable to UK-based employees working in Gibraltar. If this is so, the question of possible unequal treatment will therefore have to be closely examined,” says Mr Alvarez.

“Whilst I have not yet seen the detail of these purported changes, I expect to be fully briefed during this week. The problem seems to be that none of these drivers has been clearly told what becoming “surplus” means. In these circumstances, being asked to sign the new deal within the short decision period given would be tantamount to putting a noose around MOD workers’ necks. Noone can make important decisions on their and their families’ livelihoods when they have not been properly informed of the alternatives before them.”

Alvarez says this would not be in the spirit of what the public has been led to believe regarding the negotiated deal.

“Without prejudging the issue, if this situation turns out to be accurate, it leaves a great deal to be desired, in particular the high-handedness of treating Gibraltar’s long-term and loyal workers with such scant consideration. We will have to see whether, indeed, the changes in the conditions of employment being supposedly foisted upon workers formed any part of the original agreements between the Government of Gibraltar, the Unions and the MOD. I trust that both Government and Unions and all political parties will take the necessary steps to ensure these workers and their rights are not being left in the lurch.

Alvarez added: “Mr Montiel, as the Minister responsible, has a whole lot of explaining to do with these workers in respect of the much trumpeted Government ‘safety net’ to ensure noone falls through it.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Government has no right to spy on gay or heterosexual bedrooms!

In what is being seen as a widening of its campaign, Equality Rights Group Chairman Felix Alvarez (photo left) has today informed the press of the group’s determination to "eradicate outdated, discriminatory and unjustifiable intrusion of Government into citizens’ private lives.

"Seven years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the existence of criminal offences determined on sexual orientation to be in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. As Chairman of GGR I have been patiently awaiting Government’s awakening to the fact that the citizens of Gibraltar have just as much right to freedom in their private lives within the law as in any other European State. However, it is clear to us that Government will only move in the direction of progressive change under the threat of legal sanction," Mr Alvarez stated.

"Consequently, I have written to the Chief Minister, the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police, on this matter. Seven years after judgment from the European Court is more than ample time for compliance to have come about. I am determined that it should come about now and will be taking measured but appropriate steps in this regard at British, European and international levels as I have done on the issue of age of consent.
"I am therefore inviting the Chief Minister, as part of his necessary review of age of consent legislation in Gibraltar following recent statements from the British Prime Minister, to take this opportunity to address the comprehensive issue of outdated sexual offences in current Gibraltar law in order to modernise them in line with the UK’s Sexual Offences Act 2003.

"To give an example of what we are talking about, ironically, whilst anal intercourse between males over the age of 18 is currently legal in Gibraltar, anal intercourse in heterosexual relations is criminalized. Similarly, whilst consenting heterosexual sex between more than two persons is not illegal, the same practice between consenting homosexuals continues to be criminal. Were it not for the fact that these provisions imply the right of Government to enter our bedrooms and dictate what consenting private sex lives we may or may not engage in, the absurdity of keeping offences dating back to the times of Henry VIII ("buggery") or which were responsible for the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde ("gross indecency") would be laughable. Let us be quite clear: noone is calling for modernisation provisions to oblige anyone to enter into any acts – but those who do consent and are above legal age should not have Government spying in their gay or heterosexual bedrooms and telling them what to do. That is an area that is purely personal. It is citizens’ right to personal privacy that is at stake here.

"As Chairman of GGR, I urge Government to address these issues and as a matter of course reiterate my willingness to dialogue in the interests of progress on these matters," the statement ended.